Hillside Mission School

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Hillside Mission School
Opened 1886
Alternate Names


An old one-time palatial structure, built in 1886, that stands on a hillside four miles north of Skiatook, a large addition to this building and a common burial ground in which are buried prominent Cherokees—these are the remnants of a once-flourishing pioneer school where remarkable men and women were educated in the wilds of what is now Tulsa County and what is to-day known by the name of "Hillside Mission." Responsible for building this Mission and the efforts of the Friends Society of Philadelphia in establishing a school for the Indians in the then wilderness of the Indian Territory. And during all these years there was one man who had an interest in the Mission and who to-day owns the grounds and the buildings, Mr. Simon M. Abbott.

Mr. Abbott came to Oklahoma in 1880. He settled on Tiner Creek about five miles north of what later came to be the Mission. He engaged in farming and the cattle business. He loved the woods and the streams, having been reared by a father who had been captured by the Delawares and who was adopted by the tribe and who spent seven years among them. In later life he became an Indian trader. With his carry-all, pulled by four horses, he traded goods to the Indians for furs. He spoke several Indian dialects.

John Murdock was the pioneer founder of Hillside Mission. In 1882, this traveling missionary was sent here by the Friends Association of Philadelphia. The region was infested with malaria; and the mosquitoes multiplied so much faster than converts that Murdock found it impractical to carry out his cherished idea of founding a school on the site. He believed that to convert the Indians permanently a school should be established in connection with the Mission. The site was insanitary; but to test it out; he sent to Arkansas and procured a young lady teacher. The enrollment included a dozen greasy urchins. We say "greasy" because the children had learned that by mixing certain pigments with coon grease and applying this mixture, mosquitoes would not bother them so much. But not so with the teacher. After heroically battling the singing and stinging insects for two weeks, her face and hands looked as though she had a severe case of measles.

In the meantime, Murdock made a fair showing of converts, mostly children. He made a report and sent it to the association at Philadelphia with a request for funds with which to build a better school building. The funds were promptly sent.

The present site of Hillside Mission was selected for the school. The south side of the Mission was built. A substantial church house was also constructed about eighty feet west of the present house. Malaria and mosquitoes were not so bad on this high location and moreover the mosquitoes could be screened out of the frame building, while they swarmed through the cracks of the log houses. Malaria was checked by the use of quinine, which folks took with as much nonchalance as they did a chew of tobacco.

It was John Murdock who conceived the plan of the school and who had carried it out successfully. After Murdock had built the school, he was ordered west by the Association. He was succeeded by John Watson in 1886. He brought his wife, generally known as "Aunt Liza," and two daughters, the elder, known as Miss Eva, and the other, fresh from college, known as Miss Elma.

Shortly after Watson’s advent into the Mission, he decided to enlarge the dormitory. He hauled lumber from Coffeyville, Kansas, and built the west wing of the dormitory at his own expense. This addition is said to have cost $1200.00. About this time the school room became inadequate for the housing of the pupils; hence, Mr. Watson found it necessary to enlarge it by annexing another building of equal dimension. Thus equipped, every part of the system moved along serenely for three years more. The quarters were, however, too small to accommodate the growing settlement.

About the year 1894, a fund was raised by the eastern committee to erect the north wing, or the last part of the present standing dormitory, which is about 40 by 70 feet and four stories high, counting basement and attic. The attic was finished up in one large room and was used as a gymnasium. This was probably the first gymnasium in Oklahoma. The basement contained two large rooms, one used as a primary department and the other for the boys’ living room, and also as a bath room. The water tank used as a reservoir, together with the bathtub, is preserved intact. Every boy who sat in that living room burned his initials upon the wall with a red hot poker, as there are yards upon yards of initials of all descriptions and kinds on the wall to this day. The ground floor above the basement is divided into four rooms and a hallway. The central room, with the bay window facing the east, was Uncle John Watson’s private room where he prepared his sermons. The first room on the right of the hall at the entrance was a guest chamber. The room at north end of the hall was reception room, and the northeast room was another guest chamber. On the second floor is a hall the entire length of the structure, with sleeping rooms on either side. This was the girls’ sleeping apartment. The west wing before mentioned and built by John Watson, is about 18 by 50 feet, is two stories high with a cellar beneath. The ground floor contains two rooms, the east room for storage quarters and the west one a dining room. On the south side of the dining room there is a long room, about 20 by 60 feet and two stories high. The ground floor was used for all public occasions, for a conference, a festival, or anything of a public nature that required a large room. On the upper floor are sleeping apartments. Then comes the south wing, built by Murdock, two stories high with the upper floor divided into sleeping apartments, and a parlor and private room below. The entire structure contains twenty-four rooms, counting basement and cellar. Quite a good-sized structure for those early days.

By 1929, only the dormitory of the Mission remains intact. The church and other buildings had been knocked down. It was sold by the trustees in Philadelphia to Mr. Simon M. Abbott, who resides here.

The deed to the four acres that comprise the site of the Mission was executed in Philadelphia. Mr. S. M. Abbott paid $300.00 for the four acres and the pile of buildings in 1929. This land was never allotted, but was transferred direct by the government to the Friends Society at Philadelphia.

Hillside Mission became such a prominent school center because it was the only school in this region. But when the allotment of Indian lands took place the Mission began to lose its position. School sites were purchased in the surrounding villages and in the country, and school houses were erected. Free public schools had come and the Mission, with nearly all patronage gone, dwindled along for a time and then finally died out entirely. But during its time the Mission teachers trained many of the most prominent men of this section of the state. The school was attended by Cherokees, Shawnees and Osages, and many white children also attended here. Board and lodging were $8.00 per month.

In 1885, Hillside cemetery was founded. In this year, a seventeen-year old boy by the name of Jesse Robenett died. Murdock called a meeting of the members to decide on a location for a cemetery. The present site of the cemetery was selected then Jesse Robenett was the first of twelve hundred who have been buried there. Among the noted Indians who have been buried at Hillside Mission are Chief W. C. Rogers and Chief George Tiner.

Up to the time of the establishing of Hillside Cemetery, there were no cemeteries in the country. The Indians had their own burial places close to their houses. On the Tom White farm one-half mile north of Skiatook, there is a private cemetery with a dozen graves plowed over each season and no one is the wiser. There are lone graves all over Tulsa County in which sleep men who have been killed in fights or brawls.